Legislative Review: bill report series

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The legislative session ended just in the nick of time recently, and I wanted to provide a run-down of what I worked on this session. Follow along with the next few editions of my e-newsletter for a series of highlights on important legislation we passed. We had many great accomplishments for the climate and environment, health care costs, housing affordability and tenant protections, behavioral health, gun safety, higher education affordability, and education funding, just to name a few. I welcome your feedback on additional issues to highlight.

It is a great honor to represent you in the legislature. Thank you so much to everyone who contacted me during the legislative session to advocate for your priorities.

Thank you,

Nicole

Eviction reform

All corners of our state and everywhere in between are facing affordable housing and homelessness crises. At the same time, eviction rates have skyrocketed, and most people who are evicted go right into homelessness because they can’t find a place to live that they can afford. This year, we passed a bold reform aimed at truly and justly balancing the relationship between tenants and landlords by increasing the pay-or-vacate order timeline from three days to fourteen days. This change gives most folks time to earn another paycheck to come up with rent money. Our bill also gives judges discretion to act in the interest of justice in the most egregious nonpayment of rent cases.

Record-setting investment in the Housing Trust Fund

We know that more housing is needed in order to ease our affordability and homelessness crises. I’m so proud that, thanks to advocacy from constituents and housing advocates, we made a record setting investment of $175 million in the Housing Trust Fund, including $35m for permanent supportive housing, $10m for preserving existing affordable housing, and $5m each for housing for veterans, people with disabilities, farmworkers, and homeownership.

Pathway to universal health care

Universal health care has long been a progressive policy goal, and this year we made our greatest stride yet by convening a workgroup to chart a path to universal health care in our state. We’ll bring together a wide array of stakeholders including patients, patient advocates, large and small businesses, labor, providers, health care facilities, insurers, and state agencies to make recommendations for the legislature on how best to create and fund a publicly funded, publicly administered, and publicly and privately delivered universal health care system that is sustainable and affordable for all Washingtonians.

Reproductive health care access for trans people and immigrants

Last year, after many years of trying, the legislture finally passed the Reproductive Parity Act to ensure access to the full range of reproductive health needs under health care plans offered in our state, including abortion care. The Reproductive Health Access for All Act (RHAA) bolsters protections for Washington’s transgender, gender non-conforming, and student communities. This new law enhances anti-discrimination policy to address the discrimination and denials of services many transgender and gender non-conforming people face in receiving reproductive health care services; requires student health plans to cover reproductive health services; mandates hospitals be transparent about policies related to admission, nondiscrimination, and the reproductive health services available at the hospital; and requires the Bree Collaborative to identify guidelines and develop clinical recommendations to improve reproductive health care for people of color, immigrants and refugees, gender-based violence survivors, and people with disabilities. The budget also includes new funding to expand access to family planning and contraceptive services to immigrant residents of our state. While other states are rolling back access to essential reproductive health care, Washington is taking an important step forward in ensuring all residents have access to the reproductive health care they need to thrive.

Washington State LGBTQ Commission

This year I was very proud to sponsor the House companion to SB 5356 to create the Washington State LGBTQ Commission. This will be only the second cabinet-level commission in the nation focused solely on LGBTQ affairs. There are so many reasons why the Commission will benefit the LGBTQ population. Often the impacts of legislation on the LGBTQ community are unknown. The Commission created under our bill will allow the LGBTQ community a formal, permanent seat at the table to provide input into legislation that might affect LGBTQ communities. There is also a lack of culturally appropriate resources for LGBTQ people, so their needs go unmet. The establishment of this Commission is vital for this segment of the population, including youth and seniors, whose identity exposes them to violence and adverse treatment. It will also assist in coordinating state programs to address the needs of LGBTQ subgroups. The membership of the Commission will be balanced, based on different criteria such as race, gender, and socioeconomic positions.

Cleaning up our own House

The problem of sexual harassment and bullying in the Legislature festered for decades until more than 200 women in the legislative community came together to sign a “Stand With Us” letter. Since then, I was proud to serve on the legislative Workgroup for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, and the Legislature has taken significant steps to end this culture of harassment. We passed a resolution that I introduced establishing the Legislature’s Code of Conduct and a bill that will make sure lobbyists will get training on respectful workplace practices. As a legislator, I feel a moral responsibility to end the culture of harassment in Olympia.

Scooter share-program regulatory framework and consumer protections

In response to environmental and traffic concerns, people are looking for creative ways to get from point to point. One new idea that has surfaced in the last few years is renting motorized scooters. These scooters have generated profits for new businesses and excitement among riders as an innovative micromobility transportation tool. However, they have also raised major safety concerns from the public and local governments.  HB 1772 allows cities to enact a variety of regulations including certain speed restrictions, moving and parking penalties, and parking requirements in compliance with ADA to keep sidewalks open for pedestrians. Additionally, shared scooter programs would be required to carry liability insurance of at least $1 million for each occurrence and $5 million in the aggregate.

Dual licensure for substance use disorder and mental health counselors

Co-occurring disorders like substance use disorder and mental health challenges often go hand-in-hand, yet providers are often only certified with one specialty. We’re modernizing these professional practices so they are better equipped to help people by creating a co-occurring disorder specialist enhancement for master’s level mental health professionals and social workers allowing them to treat clients for substance use disorders who have a co-occurring mental health disorder. Our bill also enhances peer support opportunities, by cutting red tape that gets in the way of people in recovery from helping other substance use disorder or mental health challenges.

Whistleblower protections for health care providers

The nature of the health care delivery system has changed over time and not all providers are employees of a facility where they deliver care. Whistleblowing can be dangerous because retaliation is common and can ruin careers. HB 1049 will help allow physicians to help create safer environments for patients by reporting quality of care issues without fear of reprisal.